The forces seeking to sharply reduce the number of immigrants coming to America won a stunning victory last June, when nativist anger at an “amnesty” for the undocumented scuttled a major bipartisan immigration reform package backed by President Bush. Many members of Congress were completely unprepared for the flood of angry E-mails, phone calls and faxes they received — an inundation so massive that the phone system collapsed under the weight of more than 400,000 faxes.
They should not have been surprised. The furious nativist tide was largely driven by an array of immigration restriction organizations that has been built up over the course of more than 20 years into fixtures in the nation’s capital.
The vast majority of these groups were founded or funded by John Tanton, a major architect of the contemporary nativist movement who, 20 years ago, was already warning of a destructive “Latin onslaught” heading to the United States. Most of these organizations used their vast resources in the days leading up to a vote on the bill to stir up a nativist backlash that ultimately resulted in its death.
At the center of the Tanton web is the nonprofit Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the most important organization fueling the backlash against immigration. Founded by Tanton in 1979, FAIR has long been marked by anti-Latino and anti-Catholic attitudes. It has mixed this bigotry with a fondness for eugenics, the idea of breeding better humans discredited by its Nazi associations. It has accepted $1.2 million from an infamous, racist eugenics foundation. It has employed officials in key positions who are also members of white supremacist groups. Recently, it has promoted racist conspiracy theories about Mexico’s secret designs on the American Southwest and an alternative theory alleging secret plans to merge the United States, Mexico and Canada. Just last February, a senior FAIR official sought “advice” from the leaders of a racist Belgian political party.
FAIR officials declined repeated requests for comment.
None of this — or any other material evidencing the bigotry and racism that courses through the group — seems to have affected FAIR’s media standing. In just the first 10 months of 2007, the group was quoted in mainstream media outlets nearly 500 times with virtually no mention of its more unsavory aspects. FAIR President Dan Stein was featured on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” at least 12 times in the same period, along with countless appearances on other television news shows. And, perhaps most remarkably of all, FAIR has been taken seriously by Congress, which has called upon its officials to testify on immigration more than 30 times since 2000.
“The sad fact is that attempts to reform our immigration system are being sabotaged by organizations fueled by hate,” said Henry Fernandez, a senior fellow and expert on immigration at the Center for American Progress, a “progressive” think tank. “Many anti-immigrant leaders have backgrounds that should disqualify them from even participating in mainstream debate,Share on Facebook